L.A.-based Juma Entertainment has a VH1 hit and a small dating controversy on its hands with Ochocinco: The Ultimate Catch. Juma’s founder Robert Horowitz (pictured) fills realscreen in on the growing production company.
The VH1 dating series, Juma’s latest show on-air, stars Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco. Horowitz considers having a current and buzz-worthy NFL star on a reality series to be a coup, as opposed to a sports star no longer in his/her heyday. But that’s proved to have its own challenges.
‘Here was somebody who had finished a football season in the playoffs, went immediately to a dance studio to train for Dancing with the Stars and went from dancing to dating and back to playing football,’ says Horowitz. ‘All along the way, he had a day job and that needed to be respected. You work that into the content. That’s where from a production standpoint, it gives you the opportunity to be creative, and if you nail it, you excel.’
The Ochocinco series came together when Juma paired up with sports, entertainment and media company IMG (for which Horowitz used to serve as head of its TV arm) on the CBS primetime show, Super Bowl’s Greatest Commercials and Ochocinco, then Chad Johnson, appeared as a guest on the show. ‘Three years ago, I saw him as a very charismatic talent,’ says Horowitz. Then, he changed his last name legally to Ochocinco (or ‘eight five’ in Spanish, in honor of his Cincinnati Bengals’ number) and was the subject of HBO’s Hard Knocks series. ‘He was definitely the stand-out star for those five episodes and we just went after him,’ he says.
Horowitz says it’s coincidence that the company dabbles in sports entertainment – Super Bowl’s Greatest Commercials and Ochocinco: Ultimate Catch are both Juma titles – but it definitely helps that at IMG, Horowitz was well versed in managing talent. ‘When you have people like Chad, T.O.[Terrell Owens] or any of those people that we start working with, there’s a comfort level there because they know that we’re more than just TV producers,’ he says.
As TV producers, however, they had to deal with the very real life of Ochocinco conflicting with the dating challenge they’d shot months ago for VH1. It recently hit the news that Ochocinco was dating a woman who was not a contestant on Ochocinco: Ultimate Catch. The series hadn’t yet aired its finale when the news picked up Ochocinco’s real life relationship, and while Horowitz can’t say that it was a positive development, he says he believed in the sophistication of the audience.
‘Do I wish it wasn’t out there? I’d rather not see that, but that’s part of him being him and I respect that,’ he says. While Horowitz says he believes viewers knew that what they were watching wasn’t in real time, ideally, ‘You keep the toothpaste in the tube and keep everything bottled up until it happens on screen.’
Dating issues aside, Juma currently has 75 shows in the pipeline and 13 to 15 that they’re aggressively pitching to network and cable in all different types of genres. The prodco’s copro with the Gurin Company, Singing Bee on CMT, recently wrapped up, as did Ultimate Merger on TV One, a relationship show starring The Apprentice‘s Omarosa and Donald Trump. They’ve also just finished Bravo’s Double Exposure docuseries on fashion photography.
Recently, Juma promoted Melissa Calheno to VP, operations and added Dionne Clifton as development associate, and Horowitz says the company is ramping up. ‘We’re making heavy investment in development, because you can’t come up with too many good ideas and find too many characters so we’re in a very aggressive mode to develop new shows. That’s key for us now,’ he says.